What frustrates me about this whole conversation about “luck” is that making it a dirty word seems like yet another way to perpetuate the myth that America really is a meritocracy. But the truth is, I have never met anyone in media who has made it through talent and hard work alone. I know plenty of people who got their first jobs in media because their parents worked in media, or politics, or entertainment. Others got their first job because they attended the right Ivy League school and the person recruiting, or the editor he or she was recruiting for, happened to be an alum. Others were able to secure entry-level jobs simply because their parents could support them financially for the six months or a year or two years of their internships, until they were finally offered that $25,000-a-year job that someone whose parents are not as rich as theirs could not afford to take. Yet plenty of the people who fit those categories either genuinely believe or pretend that their intellect and talent alone got them where they are. At least that’s what they tell the world when asked about their career trajectories. That kind of denial is not fair to the kid sitting at home who has potential but not enough financial aid to attend the Ivy League school he or she may have gotten accepted to or who cannot afford to take that prestigious but underpaid summer internship.
Those kids should hear the truth from more people—women and men. It may be something like, “I work really hard, but I was fortunate that my professor used to work at a publication that gave me my first job.” Or, “My father was friends with an editor who took me under his wing. I proved myself by working nights and weekends for a long time and finally got promoted.” In other words, talent, hard work, and intellect matter. But so does whom you know, who likes you, who doesn’t, how you look, where you come from, and plenty of other characteristics that have little to do with getting the job done but can have everything to do with getting the job.